The Prime Minister’s performance at PMQs on Wednesday should be compulsory viewing for every registered voter. His verbal ‘spar’ (a term which makes it sound far more impressive than it was) with the Leader of the Opposition was like watching a toddler having a hissy fit because his ice cream was too cold. This Prime Minister’s particular approach to debate seems to be ‘I can shout louder than you can’, while he relies upon a gaggle of guffawing (presumably briefed) sycophants behind him to drown out any opposition politician, opinion, argument or indeed fact.
There is obviously no shortage of articles in the British press which refer to Starmer ‘dismantling’ the PM’s arguments, or ‘deconstructing’ Johnson’s many ‘fact-lite’ statements. We need only look at the work of certain columnists to see an interpretation on the new Labour leader more akin to the second coming of Christ, if Christ were a rather stuffy centrist that is. Though Starmer is certainly a very competent orator, the fact that his opponent in the Commons struggles to string a sentence together (let alone string one together without insulting a minority, profession or demographic) could be helping his situation.
Johnson’s behaviour on Wednesday however was utterly, utterly deplorable. His ‘whataboutery’ knew no bounds and his genetic similarity to Teflon no doubt came in useful. He refused to answer any of Starmer’s questions, instead wilfully mishearing the Leader of the Opposition and answering a question that he had practiced for every time his opposite number spoke. The same question every time. Everything was about Brexit as far as the Prime Minister was concerned, and when he couldn’t talk up the dogs dinner his party is making of the process, he resorted to pre-prepared jibes at Starmer’s job history – a job history which interestingly enough does not involve being fired for lying on multiple occasions.
When asked about the Russia report the Prime Minister set the tone for what was going to be one of his worst performances yet. Incidentally this is the same report which his government sat on for ten months and refused to release before December’s election, only showing it now after they embarrassingly failed to get one of their lap dogs elected to the head of the Intelligence and Security Committee (the same committee which wrote the report). All he could say was that it emphatically, completely and utterly proves without a shadow of a doubt that there was no Russian interference in the 2016 referendum. He failed to mention that the reason it says this is because the intelligence services were not allowed to investigate the referendum, a point that also appears to have passed over the head of the nation’s favourite racist uncle, Nigel Farage.
The Prime Minister’s next port of call was to claim that the man standing opposite him had “parroted the line of the Kremlin” following the attack in Salisbury in 2018, despite the fact that Starmer notably backed Theresa May’s response, going against the policy of then leader Jeremy Corbyn. When the new Labour leader challenged him on this barefaced lie and asked him to retract his comments, our ever-gracious Prime Minister doubled down on claiming that the man two metres in front of him didn’t go on national television in the aftermath of the incident and condemn the Russian state for using nerve gas on British soil, a tragedy which is believed to have led to one death.
When the Prime Minister was asked what further steps would be taken against the Chinese state for the alleged ethnic cleansing of Uighur Muslims, he knew he had two options. The first would be to do the decent thing, the easy thing, the thing anyone with even a modicum of integrity would do in a heartbeat: to speak out against the state-sponsored detention of more than a million innocent people, as well as massive forced sterilisation schemes running alongside ‘re-education’ programmes. The second would be to ignore the thrust of the question and use it as a segue onto Brexit once more. He naturally chose the latter of these two options.
This is the man who runs the country with an 80-seat majority. Our Prime Minister, the democratically-elected leader of one of the oldest ‘functioning’ parliaments in the world. A parliament which purports to be a champion of democracy and human rights and he could not bring himself to say anything about a grievous human rights violation and one of the most horrific acts the Chinese state, or any major state for that matter, has ever committed. Johnson instead launched into a recitation of his 2019 manifesto, accusing the new Labour leader of standing by the old one in ignoring allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party, while he shouted about hospitals, police officers and, of course, Brexit.
I reiterate, this is what your Prime Minister chose to do rather than speak about the actions being taken against Xi Jinping’s China and its alleged ethnic cleansing. There is no excuse for this. There is no justification for the leader of the United Kingdom to respond like this to such a serious matter and question. If nothing else that this man has ever done upsets you, frustrates you or causes you concern, this should. We are led by a man prone to infantile bursts, one who resorts to name calling rather than working constructively with those who stand against oppressive regimes and violators of basic human rights.
My point remains: PMQs should be compulsory viewing for every registered voter. News bulletins should replay segments, if not the entire thing, during the evening news. When anyone in public office acts like this, the public should know. When the Prime Minister acts like this, it becomes imperative. This is not the behaviour which should be acceptable for any world leader. In this age of Trumpian politics, as the absurd becomes normalised, and we grow immune to gaffes, fuck-ups and the kind of despicable behaviour we wouldn’t tolerate from a spoilt child, we must remind ourselves that this is not normal and this is not acceptable.
Image: DonkeyHotey via Flickr